Ghent-Wevelgem's additional gravel roads or plugstreets this 2017 edition are unnecessary and unfitting for the Belgian classic, say cycling experts.
For the 79th edition, organiser Flanders Classics added three sectors of fine gravel roads with 60 kilometres to race. They total 5.2 kilometres and come right after the Kemmelberg and Monteberg climbs.
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) stepped down from the sign-on podium ton Sunday morning in Deinze, south of Ghent and confessed he had not previewed them.
"But I don't think that it's necessary that they do this," the Belgian Olympic champion explained.
"I'm the first guy that loves Strade Bianche, but I don't think it's necessary for Ghent-Wevelgem to find this type of roads. It's not necessary to go on these unplugged or plug roads. I don't like it."
The new challenge around the Ploegsteert village commemorates the Christmas Truce of 1914 in World War One.
"It is worse than this," Team Sky sports director Servais Knaven said while kicking the dirt in the team parking area on Sunday morning.
"I would not say it's super dangerous but some corners are off camber. I don't think you're going to win the race there but you can lose it there because of flat tyres.
"The riders will not slow down after Kemmelberg and Monteberg because you have come on and the next climb and then it's 12K to the plugstreets. It'll be easier on the lead group then if they were to go into the streets with 100 guys."
Milan-San Remo, Ghent-Wevelgem and Scheldeprijs traditionally gave the sprinters a chance to win in the spring classics. One top sprinter, Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) no longer includes Ghent-Wevelgem on his calendar.
"It's always been a classic the wind and the small climbs in the end," Van Avermaet added. "It was a good combination for everybody and it was good enough. Now this is [trickier]. It was nervous enough that they put [the plugstreets] inside, it makes a big difference. It's good for Strade Bianche, but this race should stay like Milan-San Remo with its normal parcours."
"I don't think it's necessary to have these in a race like this," added Knaven. "Ghent-Wevelgem has its own history after 75 years. It was made for sprinters, flat with the Kemmberg and some other little climbs, then 40 kilometres to the finish and a cat and mouse play with a group of 20. That's what Ghent-Wevelgem used to be.
"I don't think that this race needs to put in all these different things and all the small roads and the climbs in France and then the plugstreets. This race has its history because it was a specific class different than all the others. It's totally different now and for different riders."
Team Quick Step boss Patrick Lefevere blasted the decision by Flanders Classics to add in the three sectors.
"This has nothing to do with road racing," Lefevere told Het Nieuwsblad. "What if the peloton stays together and a group of 150 riders have to squeeze through the narrow roads only the width of a car?
"I think Georges Matthys, one of the founders of the course, would turn over in his grave. This is completely ridiculous."
World champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) stood near Van Avermaet behind the signature podium on Sunday morning. He shrugged off the new addition of gravel roads.
"It's not my problem, it's an organisational issue," Sagan said. "They always try something. We just have to ride on the roads. That's it."
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